I understand that I do a bit of complaining and rants about writers getting things wrong. I think we can all learn from the mistakes made by others, in all walks of life. However, this week I would like to give recognition to a writer who has done it right.
Today’s recipient of praise is another writer who has exhibited keen personal insight by letting us into her characters. The current authors to whom I have previously given kudos here for showing the depth of understanding include Cecelia Ahern, Rachel Joyce, Angie Sage and Liane Moriarty. The writer who gets my praise today wrote one hundred years ago: Elisabeth von Arnim.
I had heard of the movie “Enchanted April” and although it had a number of actors who have given great performances in the past, I had not been enticed to see it. I had been bored by many movies of the same ilk, and ignored it as one in the same. I had no idea it was based on a wonderful book.
As I have been doing a lot of quarterly/ 6-month/yearly housework, trying to squeeze it all in, I have once again turned to YouTube with my Bluetooth earbuds and have been listening to audiobooks. I stumbled across a Librivox recording of Enchanted April and took a chance.
Elisabeth von Arnim had a checkered life, not all of which I can approve, but that of hers which I do approve is her incredibly keen insight into the workings of people’s minds and their emotions.
Elisabeth von Arnim lets you hear the minds of all of her characters, even those of passers-by. Be they dull or brilliant, sharp or absent-minded, the variety of thoughts, the perceptions, misconceptions, with growth and awakenings of insight, her characters have one thing in common: we come to care about them, or what happens to them.
I hope to find more of her works, but I have to admit that so far, my favorite is “Enchanted April”. “Elisabeth and her German Garden” is billed as ‘semi-autobiographical’. I think that she changed some of it to what she had hoped had happened and what she had actually been able to say. Don’t let the name or the beginning dissuade you from the rest of the story; she does, indeed, discuss her garden throughout a year, but her life and those around her in and out of the garden are well worth reading, ( or hearing).
I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that those have happy endings, and all of her works have dry humor spread throughout her stories; plus you could, with no qualms, recommend them to your sweet old aunt/uncle, or to your teenager.
The authors I listed above all have the same qualities in common; they all show great insight into the workings of the human mind. Other writers have also shown that they can peer into people’s heads, but they lack the one quality that I find to be important: the depth to make me truly care about the characters. The population of story-worlds don’t have to be saints, but they have to be compelling enough for me to want them to be better, and they should rarely disappoint.
I had not heard of Maeve Binchy until she died. “Oh, the most famous and best loved novelist of modern Ireland”, I heard. I ran to my library to check out her works, figuratively and literally. Boy, was I disappointed! Yes, she could string stories along and weave her character’s stories together, but I did not like her people. She wanted to be the writer Elisabeth von Arnim was and Liane Moriarty is; she wasn’t.
I certainly was not disappointed in von Arnim’s “Enchanted April”, followed closely by her first, “Elisabeth and her German Garden” and also by “Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight”. (I was not as happy with “The Pastor’s Wife”, but it had its moments. “Vera” is very good, but it is very much darker than her other novels.) I intend to seek out more of her works.
Many of her books have names of other famous movies, but I will not judge them by the movies made in the past. There is no way that the thoughts, humor and subtleties can be transferred from book to screen.
If you read or listen to the first three I recommend, you will not be disappointed.